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Couple turn up hours early to catch bus back to JB home

M'sian couple working here, who hadn't seen parents for over a year, board first S'pore-M'sia land VTL bus

Biotechnologist Kelvin Teo, 35, has not returned to his home in Johor Baru for close to two years - since March 18 last year, when Malaysia imposed a partial lockdown as the Covid-19 situation deteriorated.

Excited to see their loved ones in Johor Baru, he and his interior designer wife Christine Poh - both Malaysians working here - turned up at the Woodlands Temporary Bus Interchange at 5.30am yesterday, 21/2 hours before the first bus under the Singapore-Malaysia land vaccinated travel lane (VTL) was scheduled to depart.

Ms Poh, 34, told The Straits Times: "When Malaysia announced the lockdown, we decided to come to Singapore for two weeks because my husband was already working here then. But two weeks became two years."

Yesterday, the couple, who were planning to surprise their parents with their return, were among the first passengers to travel to Malaysia under the land VTL.

It was mostly a smooth process for them.

One woman who was supposed to be on their bus, however, was not so fortunate. She was turned away as she is not a long-term pass holder in Malaysia.

Only citizens, permanent residents and long-term pass holders of the country they are entering can travel under the first phase of the land VTL.

At the terminal, bus operator Transtar Travel carried out checks on the documents that travellers must have, including vaccination certificates and pre-departure Covid-19 test results.

At 9.10am, about an hour after departing from the Woodlands Temporary Bus Interchange, the first VTL bus pulled into Larkin Sentral Bus Terminal in Johor Baru.

As at 3pm yesterday, 512 travellers from Singapore had been cleared for departure at Woodlands Checkpoint, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority said. It added that 67 travellers had been cleared for arrival in Singapore by then.

Malaysian waitress Woo Pey Fen, 41, and her two children, aged 12 and 14, spent eight hours last Thursday using four devices before they managed to book the bus tickets.

Her 12-year-old son Zhan Hua is looking forward to eating his grandmother's home-cooked meals. He added: "My father can't go back with us because he's busy. But he told us to help him hug his parents."

The land VTL currently prioritises workers in Singapore or Malaysia who have not been able to return home since the land border was closed in March last year.

These travellers are no longer quarantined on arrival, unlike those returning home via the Periodic Commuting Arrangement, which requires a seven-day quarantine at designated facilities or hotels after they arrive in Malaysia or Singapore.

Instead, they must test negative in a pre-departure polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test or professionally administered antigen rapid test (ART) - done within two days before departure. On arrival, they are again required to take an ART.

Those arriving in Singapore who test positive will take a confirmatory PCR test on-site. If the PCR result is positive, they will be placed on a 10-day isolation order and undergo the home recovery programme.

At Queen Street Terminal, solo travellers and families were buzzing with excitement before the first two VTL buses run by Handal Indah, the other designated bus operator, were set to leave at 9am.

The first in line was teacher Tan Hui Yang, who celebrated her 33rd birthday yesterday with her family in Johor Baru for the first time since 2019.

She was also looking forward to seeing her 83-year-old grandmother.

"I couldn't sleep last night. I was too excited and counting down the hours," said Ms Tan, who woke up at 4am and started queuing at 6.50am.

Another passenger, Ms Moon Chong, would be travelling for more than 12 hours to her home town in Perak to see her two sons, aged five and seven.

"I can't wait to see my two kids, whom I haven't seen since Chinese New Year last year," said the 30-year-old administrator.

"It's tough because I missed the first time my seven-year-old son went to primary school, and I missed both their birthdays (the past) two years."

TOURISM & TRAVEL